Four new drug detection dogs and their handlers are set to join the effort to keep drugs out of Western Australian prisons at a time when attempts to smuggle contraband have changed because of COVID-19 protection measures.
The new recruits have joined the Drug Detection Unit (DDU) at the Department of Justice, Corrective Services.
The dogs have been trained to sniff out drugs and contraband on prisoners, in their cells and on prison grounds as well as people entering Western Australian jails including the prison car parks.
The dogs can also assist with searching prisoners’ mail.
Labrador retrievers Blade, Zabel, Neo and Bowie along with Drug Detection Officers Jessica, Chris, Adrian and Jean-Luc underwent a 10-week Passive Alert Detection training program.
They will be posted to the metropolitan arm of the DDU and can be deployed to regional prisons.
During COVID-19 restrictions, including the suspension of social visits, the DDU has been able to increase efforts on screening mail and searching within facilities.
Since March 23, there have been six interceptions of attempts to traffic the drug buprenorphine through mail sent to prisoners. Drug dogs assisted in some of the intercepts.
The DDU has also been involved in high-profile searches of facilities conducted jointly with the Special Operations Group in metropolitan and regional prisons.
The drug detection dog teams have carried out more than 250 searches during April and May 2020 resulting in eight drug and drug-related seizures.
By comparison, during April-May 2019, there were about 650 DDU drug searches of which about 560 were visitor searches yielding 10 seizures.
As stated by Corrective Services Minister Francis Logan:
“These dogs and their handlers will play a significant role in Corrective Services enforcing a zero tolerance approach to drugs in prisons.
“The suspension of social visits because of the COVID-19 pandemic has given the DDU the opportunity to increase its focus on finding drugs inside prison boundaries and among incoming mail.
“There have been greater incidences of attempts to traffic drugs via prisoner mail, a trend observed by correctional authorities in other States and Territories.
“When social visits return, the officers and dogs will resume their work preventing any attempts by visitors to bring drugs into prisons.
“I would remind anyone attempting to do so that the penalties have been significantly increased and you could face a $12,000 fine and 18 months’ jail under tough new laws brought in by the McGowan Labor Government.
“The efforts of the DDU complement other Corrective Services programs to address drug and alcohol addiction among prisoners, which includes the opening later this year of a drug treatment facility at Casuarina Prison for men.”